Monday, May 23, 2011

The Joplin Tornado – Thinking Out Loud

I’m sure you’ve heard news of the Tornado that hit Joplin, Missouri on May 22nd (yesterday, as I’m writing this) that is now officially the deadliest tornado to hit the U.S. since 1953.

I want to be in Joplin.

I have many friends and some family that live in Joplin, which is a little over an hour drive away from my house. They are all okay. In fact, I have yet to hear from anyone I know personally that has lost any physical possessions.

But, I see the pictures and the videos; the destruction, the loss, the hurting.

I want to be in Joplin.

I have friends who are in Joplin to volunteer, friends that are taking supplies.
I am sitting inside watching it pour down rain 80 miles away. And it’s driving me crazy.

In 2 Corinthians Paul affirms that we are given comfort for the purpose of comforting others. In 1 John we’re told that meeting the physical needs of others is a sign that God’s love is alive in us. Jesus himself says we will be held accountable for the times we provided (or didn’t) for those who are hungry, thirsty and need to be clothed (Matt 25). One of John the Baptist’s examples of repentance was for the man with two coats to give one away (Luke 3).

Those are just a few examples that show that having a desire to help those in need is good. And if we don’t feel any such desire, that’s a bad sign of our spiritual state.

But I had another thought.

What if my desire to be there now is more-or-less a drug to treat my own brokenness over the situation? We always feel better when we get to help. Or when we can at least say we tried to help. We don’t feel very good about ourselves when we sit staring out the window at the rain, knowing there are people who have lost their homes…their loved ones. Thinking there are people who are missing and are maybe stuck someplace waiting for someone to hear their cry for help.

If only I could be there… what? I could be the person that saves a life. That has an ear to listen. That has hands to pick up the pieces of something broken.


I could also be the one who causes a traffic problem with my car. Who takes time away from people who are doing something meaningful so they can try to find something for me to do.

I keep checking and the official word is: “don’t come”—unless you’re medical personnel you’ll just get in the way. Wait a day or two and coordinate with officials.

Waiting is hard. It seems wasteful. It leaves me in my brokenness.

I want to be in Joplin.

I looked out at the rain and I thought “I would like to go stand out in the rain.” Just to stand there. Just to get wet.

I asked if others like to do that, to stand in the rain…I forgot some people think its fun. I don’t think its fun. I think it’s a type of suffering. I want to go stand in the rain and think about all those people getting drenched by pain and suffering. They’re soaked simply because it rained and there is nothing they can do about it. I want to get wet and grieve and feel as though I’m right there with them.

But then I’ll go back inside and get tired of being in wet clothes. I’ll take a shower and watch a movie or something, because I’m not really right there with them.

I remember when my son was born and he was flown to the children’s hospital with seizures. I remember driving the 4 hours to the hospital with my wife. We were drenched simply because it had rained, and there was nothing we could do about it.

There were family and friends that were there, and they suffered, too. There were people all over the world that sent us messages, that prayed for us, that stood out in the rain to grieve with us, and I am extremely grateful. But it was not the same.

It took us longer to dry off, to work through why it had rained in the first place. And we heard the voice of God more clearly than any of those who grieved alongside us. And my son is okay.

I grieve with Joplin, but I cannot truly understand the whole of the suffering there. I think that is ok. I think those who are living in homes completely intact probably feel this tension more than I can possibly imagine as they take in their friends and neighbors who have lost everything.

I will probably get to go to Joplin soon, and many times as the rebuilding process begins. But for now I’m left in a tension that forces me to recognize that things don’t depend on me, and that my hope and trust is in a God that is big and is good in all circumstances, a God that loves the people in Joplin more than I possibly could.

(The tension is good.)